As recently as last week, the New England Patriots were hoping for help in the AFC playoff race.
Now that they’re officially eliminated from postseason contention, that calculus has changed.
The Patriots certainly won’t tank their final two games — home dates with the Buffalo Bills on Monday night and the New York Jets next Sunday — but losses by teams just below them in the NFL standings could boost their draft position.
If the season ended today, the 6-8 Patriots would receive the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Minnesota Vikings also sit at 6-8 but boast a lower strength of schedule (.500 to New England’s .536), so they’d pick 14th. The 6-8 Washington Football Team leads the NFC East, so it would pick no higher than 19th.
A half-dozen teams currently sit at 5-9, and another is 4-9-1. Two more are 7-7.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1, .548 strength of schedule)
Remaining opponents: at Dallas, vs. Washington
8. Los Angeles Chargers (5-9, .462)
vs. Denver, at Kansas City
9. Dallas Cowboys (5-9, .495)
vs. Philadelphia, at N.Y. Giants
10. New York Giants (5-9, .503)
at Baltimore, vs. Dallas
11. Detroit Lions (5-9, .505)
vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota
12. San Francisco 49ers (5-9, .533)
at Arizona, vs. Seattle
13. Denver Broncos (5-9, .577)
at L.A. Chargers, vs. Las Vegas
14. Minnesota Vikings (6-8, .500)
at New Orleans, at Detroit
15. New England Patriots (6-8, .536)
vs. Buffalo, vs. N.Y. Jets
19 or lower: Washington Football Team (6-8, .485)
vs. Carolina, at Philadelphia
16. Chicago Bears (7-7, .500)
at Jacksonville, vs. Green Bay
17. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7, .541)
vs. Miami, at Denver
If the Patriots win their final two games to finish 8-8, they can pick no higher than 15th. But they lose both or split, they could climb up the draft board depending on how teams currently above them fare.
Patriots fans hoping for the highest possible draft pick should be pulling for the Eagles, Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Lions, 49ers, Broncos and Vikings to win as many games as possible over these final two weeks. But with Eagles-Cowboys, Giants-Cowboys, Lions-Vikings and Chargers-Broncos matchups all still to come, New England’s upward mobility will be limited.
Strong finishes by the Bears and Raiders, who are in line to pick just behind the Patriots, also would help.